Impact of credit card probe unclear

Jan. 09, 2014 @ 06:53 PM

Waste of time or worthy pursuit?
The answer might depend on whom you ask about thousands of pages of city of High Point credit card records that were recently gathered.
City officials tracked down more than three years’ worth of data about the city’s procurement card, or P-card, program used by employees, as well as the American Express card used by senior city staff.
The result: About 8,500 pages of P-card records and a stack of American Express statements nearly an inch thick. The P-card document was too big for the city’s email server to send to council members’ iPads, so the data was burned onto discs.
Financial Services Director Jeff Moore said he and his staff spent about 37 hours gathering P-card records. City Manager Strib Boynton said it took him and his assistant the better part of two days to track down the American Express data.
“We spent, basically, a week, cumulatively, for everybody who was involved in it, pulling stuff together,” Boynton said.
The information was gathered at the request of City Councilman Foster Douglas, who has said he asked for the records because he had questions about the safeguards and accountability measures used to monitor the cards.
Douglas has not returned calls and emails since the credit card records were made available to council earlier this week. Some have speculated that Douglas, who is the target of an effort by the city to collect a $32,000 court judgment he owes, is primarily interested in embarrassing Boynton through the credit card inquiries.
They don’t appear to have uncovered anything damning, however.
The American Express records show that the credit card was used mostly to pay for registration, travel, meals and hotel expenses associated with professional conferences and other events attended by the mayor, council members and city staff as part of their official duties.
The P-card program, which is used by High Point and many other local governments through Bank of America, allows for purchases of low-dollar value goods with less paperwork and fewer handling costs than the requisition system previously used, officials said.
All card transactions are reviewed by city department heads and purchasing department personnel, as well as outside auditors.
Councilwoman Becky Smothers said she believes the city’s and the bank’s oversight of the program is sufficient.
“If I can’t trust the information submitted, internal controls, an independent audit plus the integrity of the (bank) service and local vendors, then 8,500 pages will not enlighten me sufficiently to render an intelligent judgment,” she said.
Councilman Jim Davis agreed that the P-card safeguards are adequate and that he sees the benefits of using the program.
“I think it’s our responsibility as council members to ask questions. I don’t know if there was anything Foster was looking for in particular,” Davis said.
He said the few pages of P-card statements he’s looked at don’t provide much detail.
“It just says where something was bought, but not a whole lot about what it was,” he said.
Another aspect of the program that Douglas said raised concerns is the amount of city-issued cards in use. Approximately 365 of the city’s roughly 1,400 employees have been issued cards.
For the sake of comparison, 481 city of Greensboro employees are authorized P-card holders out of about 3,000 total employees, according to city spokesman Donnie Turlington.
The city of Winston-Salem has 242 P-cards for its approximately 2,600 employees, spokeswoman Susan Spainhour said.
Councilman Jason Ewing said he believes Douglas’ request was viable, but has concerns that too many man hours went into fulfilling it.
“A lot of paper got burned off in printing (the American Express statements). I don’t think that was best thing for staff to be doing. There maybe could have been a presentation on what the P-card program is and then if there were concerns that there was any misuse, we could have directed them to get documentation,” Ewing said.
Boynton said the record gathering took staff time away from several priorities, including preparations for a pending bond sale.
“It’s public information, and we’re happy to do that. But we lost some time,” Boynton said. “We’ve lost sight of our course, so we’ve got to get back to business.”
pkimbrough@hpe.com | 888-3531